MARTA, the National Archaeological Museum of Taranto, has been connecting people to the past through archaeological treasures since the museum’s establishment in 1887. For nearly 150 years, MARTA has occupied the same location on the former Convent of the Friars Alcantarini grounds in Taranto, Italy. Previously a judicial prison, the convent was purchased by the Municipality of Taranto in 1875 and dedicated to the preservation of archaeological artifacts in 1887.

Archaeological history in Italy

Before the 20th century, the antiquities market in Italy and Europe was corrupted—laws of the time did not protect artifacts that were found, and unauthorized excavations for personal gain were common. Landowners were proprietors of what they uncovered on their land, and no attribution was assigned to artifacts that were recovered before they entered the marketplace. Culturally-relevant pieces were dispersed across museums and personal collections without documentation. The initial archaeological pieces excavated at Pugia were acquired by the Royal Bourbon Museum of Naples or the Museum of Lecce, and did not remain in the Taranto region.

The creation of MARTA signaled a shift in the way Italy and its people handled antiquities. Archaeologists, including Luigi Viola, began to work with leaders of the city of Taranto, and through their patronage, MARTA’s collection was begun. A law was instituted to award prize money to the discoverer of any artifact, as well as to the owner of the land it was discovered upon. This procedure meant that pieces could be recorded, categorized, and assigned attribution. As more artifacts were recorded, the government began developing historical-topographical readings of the area.

The National Archaeological Museum of Taranto

One of the museum’s first curators, Quintino Quagliati, organized the original collection chronologically, and MARTA opened to the public in 1905. As MARTA’s collection has grown, the museum has undergone expansions and renovations. In 1903, the facade was reconstructed by Guglielmo Calderini, and a new wing on the north side of the museum was completed by Carlo Ceschi in 1941. Larger expansions began in the 1950s, with work by Ciro Drago and Nevio Degrassi.

Curators first began examining and reducing the exhibition path in 1998, evaluating the collection and its story as a whole. This led to complete closure of the museum from 2000 to 2007. In that time, the museum and its pieces were reevaluated and restructured. Artifacts were organized, the exhibition was expanded, and the experience that museum-goers have today was created. On July 29, 2016, the second floor of the museum was opened and the collection visitors experience today was inaugurated. Over the years, MARTA has evolved to become a cultural hub for today’s global citizens.

MARTA today

Today, MARTA houses one of the best collections of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts in existence and hosts cultural programs for patrons. Much of the museum’s collection is attributed to the archaeological excavations carried out in the first half of the 20th century, and is supplemented by pieces from personal collections.

The artifacts are organized to bring the story of ancient life in the Taranto region alive. Pieces are on exhibit dating back to 5000 BC, the Paleolithic era, all the way through the Early Middle Ages. Visitors will navigate the museum’s permanent collection chronologically, from some of the earliest known civilizations through Spartan colonization, Roman city life, and the medieval years.

MARTA’s pieces can also be found in temporary exhibitions in museums across the world. The museum often lends artifacts to enhance and complete collections for global citizens to enjoy.